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Corps Plans Humanitarian Task Forces
Military.com  |  By Bryant Jordan  |  March 21, 2008
Marines and sailors are not diplomats and they canít make foreign policy.

But at sea and in foreign ports they can and have practiced a kind of diplomacy that has benefited the United States in peace and war.

And now the Corps is incorporating those kinds of missions into its mission planning with the creation of Security Cooperation Marine Air-Ground Task Forces, built around the standard infantry-battalion unit but tweaked to emphasize humanitarian aid, medical and civil operations.

Just how long it will take to establish the SC MAGTFs depends on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the follow-through on plans to grow the Corps by 27,000 Marines, to 202,000 members, over the next five years.

As envisioned, the new MAGTFs sometimes would be deployed for emergencies, and sometimes when there is no urgency but where its presence can do good and generate good will for the United States, said Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski deputy commandant of plans, policies and operations, during a discussion on strategic engagement and maritime diplomacy March 19 at the annual Sea Air Space Exposition in Washington, D.C.

The SC MAGTF would be manned and equipped to carry out anything from military training of foreign forces to humanitarian, civil and medical operations, he said.

These kinds of missions have paid diplomatic and strategic dividends in the past, Natonski argued, including in the period building up for the invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. and, later, Iraq.

Rear Adm. Michael LeFevre, director of military personnel, plans and policy division, said the cooperation the U.S. got for staging or moving forces through a number of Middle Eastern countries near or bordering those countries was due in part of relationships built between the sea servicesí leadership and senior officials in the various governments.

This is something that the Navy and Marine Corps has always done,. LeFevre said, "and now weíre planning doing it."

LeFevre oversaw the Navy and Marine Corps relief efforts in 2005-2006 to Pakistan, where an earthquake killed more than 80,000 people, and left injured and homeless more than 100,000 others. He said one result of the aid the sea services were able to provide was an immediate spike in perceptions Pakistanis had of Americans.

He said the number of Pakistanis with a positive view of Americans jumped from 23 percent to 78 percent in that time.

But itís not only good will the Corps wants to generate with the new SC MAGTFs. Said Natonski, combatant commanders say they need to have this kind of forward presence to build partnerships with other countries as the sea services shape the strategic landscape to deter potential threats.

And while the new MAGTFs will go a long way toward doing that, creating them at a time when the Corps is so deeply engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan makes the planned growth of the Corps to a 202,000-member force critical.

Right now, according to Natonski, the Corps is stretched so thin it cannot build and deploy these MAGTFs to places in the world where they would do so much good. The Corps is essentially down to one-to-one dwells -- meaning that for every month a Marine is deployed, heís home only for one month before heading out again.

That means no time for the additional training that will be required for SC MAGTF duty, because the Marineís training time will be dedicated to the counter-insurgency war that now makes up most of the Corpsí mission.

With the Corps expanded by some 27,000 members over the next five years, he said, the one-to-one dwell cycle can be broken, giving Marines more time to do the amphibious training that is central to Corps doctrine, as well as train in mountains and jungles to be ready for other kinds of missions -- including for the new Security Cooperation MAGTFs.

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